Make America Sick Again: A Humanist Response to the Affordable Care Act Repeal

Last week the US Senate and House of Representatives paved the way to begin repealing President Obama’s signature program, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Though hardly a perfect law, the ACA brought health insurance to over 20 million Americans, saving lives and improving health for countless people, in part by requiring health insurance to cover pre-existing conditions, prioritize preventive measures, and cover the cost of birth control.

Now the Republican-dominated Congress has set the stage to rip apart this vital legislation, the closest our nation has ever come to having universal healthcare, and they still cannot agree on a replacement, despite having six years to do so. US House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made vague comments about letting Americans keep their insurance, but how exactly he and his Republican colleagues plan to do so remains a mystery.

By keeping healthcare within the for-profit insurance industry, the Affordable Care Act presents a complicated challenge to repeal. Each aspect of the law depends upon the others, and if one feature of it is removed, the others become unworkable. For instance, some Republicans have claimed that they want to eliminate the mandate to purchase insurance or pay a penalty fee, but the Affordable Care Act is only able to guarantee coverage to those without pre-existing conditions if there is enough money in the system to cover them—that is, if everyone pays into it. A simpler solution, though one that Republicans will unlikely support, would be for the United States to move to a single-payer system run by the government in which everyone is guaranteed access to healthcare as a human right. The single-payer system works so well that it has been adopted by every developed nation in the world, except the United States. But given that the ACA seems like the best we can do in a nation that repeatedly puts profits over people’s lives, dismantling it will have disastrous and far-reaching implications that go beyond the immediate needs of Americans for accessible and affordable healthcare.

The most obvious outcome of the Affordable Care Act will be that many people will be unable to afford insurance and many of them will become sick. Many of them will also die. For Americans, humanists especially, this concern should be first and foremost on our minds as debates continue in our government and in the media about the repeal of the ACA. A voucher program or health savings account (HSA) will not provide the comprehensive coverage that Americans need as medical expenses continue to rise, and beyond those ideas, Republicans seem at a loss. By promising to shred the Affordable Care Act, they have shown a complete disregard for Americans’ lives, particularly since they haven’t offered any comparable replacement.

Beyond the loss of human life, undoing the ACA presents an economic loss to the United States. CBS News reports that over the next four years, 3 million jobs will be lost without the Affordable Care Act. Hospitals would see a dramatic rise in their uncompensated costs of providing care, which could be as high as $1.1 trillion. CBS News points to the domino effect of impacting the disposable income of workers in the healthcare industry. All told, getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, despite Republicans’ claims, will create more costs, and average Americans are the ones who will pay the price.

Democrats are mobilizing in an attempt to save the ACA. Their campaign, which warns that the Republican’s repeal will #MakeAmericaSickAgain, included mass rallies across the country this past Sunday, and they have the majority on their side. Only one in five Americans support the Republicans’ strategy to repeal the Affordable Care Act but delay the implementation of that repeal until they can devise a replacement.

Humanists champion the idea that healthcare is a human right. We all get sick, we all need healthcare, and unexpected illnesses and accidents could strike any of us at any time. While one solution—the most humanistic solution—to America’s healthcare woes would be to implement a single-payer system, such as measure is unlikely to pass anytime soon. In the meantime, we cannot let more than 20 million Americans suffer and die without health insurance. The Affordable Care Act may not be perfect, but it is a vast improvement over what we had before, which is the same plan Republicans are currently offering: nothing.